Never Trump Almost Succeeds

Delegates made a last-ditch effort to block the impending Republican presidential nomination during a chaotic opening session in Cleveland.

Attendees at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland (Mark Kauzlarich / Reuters)

CLEVELAND—The Republican National Committee turned aside a last-ditch effort to block the nomination of Donald Trump on Monday, as delegates opposing Trump tried and failed to secure a vote that could have jeopardized his victory.

The bid by the so-called Never Trump delegates played out in a dramatic scene on the convention floor that laid bare the divisions within the Republican Party over the man it is about to nominate for the presidency. Trump supporters and opponents shouted over each other for several minutes, causing such confusion that the convention was briefly halted. Representative Steve Womack of Arkansas, presiding over the floor, appeared uncertain and repeatedly consulted a parliamentary aide during what has typically been among the sleepiest and most pro forma portions of the presidential-nominating conventions.

Earlier on Monday, Trump opponents said they had submitted a petition to an aide to the secretary of the convention containing what they believed were sufficient signatures from state delegations to force a full roll-call vote on the convention rules. The goal of the vote was to allow delegates to vote their conscience on the nomination and to release them from their duty to vote according to the primary and caucus results of their states.

Convention organizers sought to thwart the effort by adopting the rules by voice vote, yet when Womack called the vote, the nays were just as loud as the ayes. “Roll call vote! Roll call vote,” the Trump opponents in Quicken Loans Arena chanted, while Trump supporters tried to drown them out with calls of “USA! USA!” and “We want Trump.”

Womack, it seemed, didn’t know what to do, and he left the stage as delegates stood on the floor in a state of confusion.

“This is surreal. The chair walked off the stage. He completely abandoned his post,” Senator Mike Lee of Utah told reporters in a televised interview on the convention floor.

Womack returned a few minutes later with a plea for the divided convention. “Delegates, once again, I need your help and your cooperation,” he said. “It is absolutely critical that we be able to discern the ayes from the nays.”

He called for a revote of the motion, and again, each side screamed “Aye” and “Nay” so loudly that it was impossible to tell which had prevailed. Womack, however, called it for the pro-Trump forces. “In the opinion of the chair, the ayes have it,” he said to a chorus of boos from the other side. Yet when Phil Wright, a Utah delegate, called for a roll call vote, Womack rejected the request. He said he had received a petition calling for such a vote but found that it had “insufficient support.”

Immediately afterward, members of the Delegates Unbound group decried the RNC’s efforts—and specifically Chairman Reince Priebus’s lobbying on Trump’s behalf. A.J. Spiker, an advisor to the group and the former Iowa GOP chairman, called Priebus’s push for delegates “a huge power grab,” accusing him of bullying and intimidation and calling on him to resign.

Dane Waters, the co-founder of Delegates Unbound, said he hadn’t been told what states had withdrawn their petitions that would have forced the roll-call vote, but a Trump source said the delegations of Minnesota, Iowa, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia had pulled back.

Gary Emineth, the chairman of the North Dakota GOP, said he had just submitted his resignation from Trump’s finance committee in protest of the proceedings. “I’ve been texting Reince for about 10 minutes. You don’t do this in America. This is what they do in other countries, like Russia.”

Gordon Humphrey, the former U.S. senator from New Hampshire, called Priebus’s actions toward Trump “the most monumental act of suck-up I’ve ever seen. This man has no spine, and we’ve seen the result here today. He should resign.”

Back on the floor, meanwhile, Womack haltingly plowed the convention forward and introduced Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming for a reading of the next resolution. “Thank you. Who’s proud to be an American?” Barrasso said, trying to break the tension with an appeal that was impossible for the delegates to turn down. After a few more tense procedural votes, the convention recessed until the evening, Trump having survived the most visceral challenge to his impending nomination.

Molly Ball and Clare Foran contributed reporting.